Skip to main content

Full text of "A colored man's reminiscences of James Madison"

See other formats

c... ■■ v- '■ ■ ■ 

- Eg! ' fc 

Jennings, Paul, b. 1799. 

A colored man 1 s 

reminiscences of James 

L Madison J 


i Kl '■■?■•■• •■'"■■ ; - ' 
■^■-■'.iv. .'■•■■■'. -. 

MSI v. '.■/..■. • 










This book is due at the WALTER R. DAVIS LIBRARY on 
the last date stamped under "Date Due." If not on hold, it may 
be renewed by bringing it to the library. 



WR (> ,;• 


Form No 513. 
Rev. 1/84 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil 

1 / 




' •>..*- ' 



- - ; 



/SO STa. 












Among the laborers at the Department of the 
Interior is an intelligent colored man, Paul Jen- 
nings, who was born a slave on President Madison's 
estate, in Montpelier, Va., in 1799. His reputed 
father was Benj. Jennings, an English trader there; 
his mother, a slave of Mr. Madison, and the grand- 
daughter of an Indian. Paul was a "body servant" 
of Mr. Madison, till his death, and afterwards of 
Daniel Webster, having purchased his freedom of 
Mrs. Madison. His character for sobriety, truth, 
and fidelity, is unquestioned; and as he was a 
daily witness of interesting events, I have thought 
some of his recollections were worth writing 
down in almost his own language. 



On the 10th of January, 1865, at a curious sale I 
of books, coins and autographs belonging to Edward 
M. Thomas, a colored man, for many years Mess- 
enger to the House of Representatives, was sold, 
among other curious lots, an autograph of Daniel 
Webster, containing these words: "I have paid 
$120 for the freedom of Paul Jennings ; he agrees 
to work out the same at $8 per month, to be fur- 
nished with board, clothes, washing," &c. 

J. B. E. 

tffo&<r : /a. /fZ/f . 

/lts~-^44s /%~zrz++-d &£rf£2^ 


About ten years before Mr. Madison was Presi- 
dent, he and Colonel Monroe were rival candidates 
for the Legislature. Mr. Madison was anxious to 
be elected, and sent his chariot to bring up a 
Scotchman to the polls, who lived in the neighbor- 
hood. But when brought up, he cried out : a Put 
me down for Colonel Monroe, for he was the first 
man that took me by the hand in this country." 
Colonel Monroe was elected, and his friends joked 
Mr. Madison pretty hard about his Scotch friend, 
and I have heard Mr. Madison and Colonel Mon- 
roe have many a hearty laugh over the subject, 
for years after. 

When Mr. Madison was chosen President, we 
came on and moved into the White House ; the 
east room was not finished, and Pennsylvania 


Avenue was not paved, but was always in an 
awful condition from either mud or dust. The 
city was a dreary place. 

Mr. Robert Smith was then Secretary of State, 
but as he and Mr. Madison could not agree, he 

was removed, and Colonel Monroe appointed to 


his place. Dr. Eustis was Secretary of War — 
rather a rough, blustering man ; Mr. Gallatin, a 
tip-top man, was Secretary of the Treasury; and 
Mr. Hamilton, of South Carolina, a pleasant gen- 
tleman, who thought Mr. Madison could do noth- 
ing wrong, and who always concurred in every 
thing he said, was Secretary of the Navy. 

Before the war of 1812 was declared, there 
were frequent consultations at the White House 
as to the expediency of doing it. Colonel Monroe 
was always fierce for it, so were Messrs. Lowndes, 
Giles, Poydrass, and Pope — all Southerners; all 
his Secretaries were likewise in favor of it. 

Soon after war was declared, Mr. Madison made 
his regular summer visit to his farm in Virginia. 
We had not been there long before an express 


reached us one evening, informing Mr. M. of Gen. 
Hull's surrender. He was astounded at the news, 
and started back to Washington the next morning. 
After the war had been going on for a couple of 
years, the people of Washington began to be 
alarmed for the safety of the city, as the British 
held Chesapeake Bay with a powerful fleet and 
army. Every thing seemed to be left to General 
Armstrong, then Secretary of war, who ridiculed 
the idea that there was any danger. But, in Au- 
gust, 1814, the enemy had got so near, there could 
be no doubt of their intentions. Great alarm 
existed, and some feeble preparations for defence 
were made. Com. Barney's flotilla was stripped 
of men, who were placed in battery, at Bladens- 
burg, where they fought splendidly. A large part 
of his men were tall, strapping negroes, mixed 
with white sailors and marines. Mr. Madison re- 
viewed them just before the fight, and asked Com. 
Barney if his " negroes would not run on the 
approach of the British ?" u No sir," said Barney, 
" they don't know how to run ; they will die by 


their guns first." They fought till a large part of 
them were killed or wounded ; and Barney him- 
self wounded and taken prisoner. One or two of 
these negroes are still living here. 

Well, on the 24th of August, sure enough, the 
British reached Bladensburg, and the fight began 
between 11 and 12. Even that very morning 
General Armstrong assured Mrs. Madison there 
was no danger. The President, with General 
Armstrong, General Winder, Colonel Monroe, 
Richard Rush, Mr. Graham, Tench Ringgold, and 
Mr. Duvall, rode out on horseback to Bladensburg 
to see how things looked. Mrs. Madison ordered 
dinner to be ready at 3, as usual ; I set the table 
myself, and brought up the ale, cider, and wine, 
and placed them in the coolers, as all the Cabinet 
and several military gentlemen and strangers were 
expected. While waiting, at just about 3, as 
Sukey, the house-servant, was lolling out of a 
chamber window, James Smith, a free colored man 
who had accompanied Mr. Madison to Bladens- 
burg, gallopped up to the house, waving his hat, 


and cried out, "Clear out, clear out ! General 
Armstrong has ordered a retreat !" All then was 
confusion. Mrs. Madison ordered her carriage, 
and passing through the dining-room, caught up 
what silver she could crowd into her old-fashioned 
reticule, and then jumped into the chariot with 
her servant girl Sukey, and Daniel Carroll, who 
took charge of them; Jo. Bolin drove them over 
to Georgetown Heights ; the British were expected 
in a few minutes. Mr. Cutts, her brother-in-law, 
sent me to a stable on 14th street, for his carriage. 
People were running in every direction. John 
Freeman (the colored butler) drove off in the 
coachee with his wife, child, and servant; also a 
feather bed lashed on behind the coachee, which 
was all the furniture saved, except part of the 
silver and the portrait of Washington (of which I 
will tell you by-and-by) . 

I will here mention that although the British 
were expected every minute, they did not arrive 
for some hours ; in the mean time, a rabble, taking 


advantage of the confusion, ran all over the White 
House, and stole lots of silver and whatever they 
could lay their hands on. 

About sundown I walked over to the George- 
town ferry, and found the President and all hands 
(the gentlemen named before, who acted as a sort 
of body-guard for him) waiting for the boat. It 
soon returned, and we all crossed over, and passed 
up the road about a mile ; they then left us serv- 
ants to wander about. In a short time several 
wagons from Bladensburg, drawn by Barney's 
artillery horses, passed up the road, having crossed 
the Long Bridge before it was set on fire. As we 
were cutting up some pranks a white wagoner 
ordered us away, and told his boy Tommy to 
reach out his gun, and he would shoot us. I told 
him " he had better have used it at Bladensburg." 
Just then we came up with Mr. Madison and his 
friends, who had been wandering about for some 
hours, consulting what to do. I walked on to a 
Methodist minister's, and in the evening, while he 

r ii 3 

was at prayer, I heard a tremendous explosion, and, 
rushing out, saw that the public buildings, navy 
yard, ropewalks, &c, were on fire. 

Mrs. Madison slept that night at Mrs. Love's, 
two or three miles over the river. After leaving 
that place she called in at a house, and went up 
stairs. The lady of the house learning who she 
was, became furious, and went to the stairs and 
screamed out, " Miss Madison ! if that's you, come 
down and go out! Your husband has got mine out 
fighting, and d — you, you shan't stay in my 
house ; so get out !" Mrs. Madison complied, and 
went to Mrs. Minor's, a few miles further, where 
she stayed a day or two, and then returned to 
Washington, where she found Mr. Madison at her 
brother-in-law's, Richard Cutts, on F street. All 
the facts about Mrs. M. I learned from her serv- 
ant Sukey. We moved into the house of Colonel 
John B. Taylor, corner of 18th street and New 
York Avenue, where we lived till the news of 
peace arrived. 

In two or three weeks after we returned, Con- 


gress met in extra session, at Blodgett's old shell 
of a house on 7th street (where the General Post- 
office now stands) . It was three stories high, and 
had been used for a theatre, a tavern, an Irish 
boarding house, &c; but both Houses of Congress 
managed to get along in it very well, notwith 
standing it had to accommodate the Patent-office, 
City and General Post-office, committee-rooms, and 
what was left of the Congressional Library, at the 
same time. Things are very different now. 

The next summer, Mr. John Law, a large prop- 
erty-holder about the Capitol, fearing it would 
not be rebuilt, got up a subscription and built a 
large brick building (now called the Old Capitol, 
where the secesh prisoners are confined), and 
offered it to Congress for their use, till the Capitol 
could be rebuilt. This coaxed them back, though 
strong efforts were made to remove the seat of 
government north ; but the southern members 
kept it here. 

It has often been stated in print, that when 
Mrs. Madison escaped from the White House, 


she cut out from the frame the large portrait of 
Washington (now in one of the parlors there), 
and carried it off. This is totally false. She had 
no time for doing it. It would have required a 
ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the 
silver in her reticule, as the British were thought 
to be but a few squares off, and were expected 
every moment. John Suse (a Frenchman, then 
door-keeper, and still living) and Magraw, the 
President's gardener, took it down and sent it off 
on a wagon, with some large silver urns and such 
other valuables as could be hastily got hold of. 
When the British did arrive, they ate up the very 
dinner, and drank the wines, &c, that I had pre- 
pared for the President's party. 

When the news of peace arrived, we were crazy 
with joy. Miss Sally Coles, a cousin of Mrs. 
Madison, and afterwards wife of Andrew Steven- 
son, since minister to England, came to the head 
of the stairs, crying out, " Peace ! peace !" and told 
John Freeman (the butler) to serve out wine 
liberally to the servants and others. I played 


the President's March on the violin, John Suse" 
and some others were drunk for two days, and 
such another joyful time was never seen in Wash- 
ington. Mr. Madison and all his Cabinet were 
as pleased as any, but did not show their joy in 
this manner. 

Mrs. Madison was a remarkably fine woman. 
She was beloved by every body in "Washington, 
white and colored. Whenever soldiers marched 
by, during the war, she always sent out and 
invited them in to take wine and refreshments, 
giving them liberally of the best in the house. 
Madeira wine was better in those davs than now, 
and more freely drank. In the ' last days of her 
life, before Congress purchased her husband's 
papers, she was in a state of absolute poverty, and 
I think sometimes suffered for the necessaries of 
life. While I was a servant to Mr. Webster, he 
often sent me to her with a market-basket full 
of provisions, and told me whenever I saw any- 
thing in the house that I thought she was in need 
of, to take it to her. I often did this, and occa- 


sionally gave her small sums from my own pocket, 
though I had years before bought my freedom of 

|Mr. Madison, I think, was one of the best men 
that ever lived. I never saw him in a passion, 
and never knew him to strike a slave, although 
he had over one hundred; neither would he allow 
an overseer to do it. Whenever any slaves were 
reported to him as stealing or "cutting up" badly, 
he would send for them and admonish them pri- 
vately, and never mortify them by doing it before 
others. They generally served him very faith- 
fully. He was temperate in his habits. I don't 
think he drank a quart of brandy in his whole 
life. He ate light breakfasts and no suppers, but 
rather a hearty dinner, with which he took inva- 
riably but one glass of wine. When he had hard 
drinkers at his table, who had put away his 
choice Madeira pretty freely, in response to their 
numerous toasts, he would just touch the glass to 
his lips, or dilute it with water, as they pushed 


about the decanters. For the last fifteen years of 
his life he drank no wine at all. 

After he retired from the presidency, he amused 
himself chiefly on his farm. At the election for 
members of the Virginia Legislature, in 1829 or 
'30, just after General Jackson's accession, he 
voted for James Barbour, who had been a strong 
Adams man. He also presided, I think, over 
the Convention for amending the Constitution, 
in 1832. 

After the news of peace, and of General Jack- 
son's victory at New Orleans, which reached here 
about the same time, there were great illumina- 
tions. We moved into the Seven Buildings, 
Gorner of 1 9th-street and Pennsylvania Avenue, 
and while there, General Jackson came on with 
his wife, to whom numerous dinner-parties and 
levees were given. Mr. Madison also held levees 
every Wednesday evening, at which wine, punch, 
coffee, ice-cream, &c, were liberally served, unlike 
the present custom. 


While Mr. Jefferson was President, he and Mr. 
Madison (then his Secretary of State) were ex- 
tremely intimate ; in fact, two brothers could not 
have been more so. Mr. Jefferson always stopped 
over night at Mr. Madison's, in going and return- 
ing from "Washington. 

I have heard Mr. Madison say, that when he 
went to school, he cut his own wood for exercise. 
He often did it also when at his farm in Virginia. 
He was very neat, but never extravagant, in his 
clothes. He always dressed wholly in black — • 
coat, breeches, and silk stockings, with buckles in 
his shoes and breeches. He never had but one 
suit at a time. He had some poor relatives that 
he had to help, and wished to set them an exam- 
ple of economy in the matter of dress. He was 
very fond of horses, and an excellent -judge of 
them, and no jockey ever cheated him. He never 
had less than seven horses in his Washington 
stables while President. 

He often told the story, that one day riding 
home from court with old Tom Barbour (father of 
Governor Barbour), they met a colored man, who 


took off his hat. Mr. M. raised his, to the sur- 
prise of old Tom; to whom Mr. M. replied, "I 
never allow a negro to excel me in politeness." 
Though a similar story is told of General Wash- 
ington, I have often heard this, as above, from 
Mr. Madison's own lips. 

After Mr. Madison retired from the presidency, 
in 1817, he invariably made a visit twice a year 
to Mr. Jefferson — sometimes stopping two or 
three weeks — till Mr. Jefferson's death, in 1826. 

I was always with Mr. Madison till he died, 
and shaved him every other day for sixteen years. 
For six months before his death, he was unable 
to walk, and spent most of his time reclined on a 
couch; but his mind was bright, and with his 
numerous visitors he talked with as much anima- 
tion and strength of voice as I ever heard him in 
his best days. I was present when he died. 
That morning Sukey brought him his breakfast, 
as usual. He could not swallow. His niece, Mrs. 
"Willis, said, "What is the matter, Uncle Jeames?" 
" Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear." 


His head instantly dropped, and he ceased breath- 
ing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out. 
He was about eighty-four years old, and was fol- 
lowed to the grave by an immense procession of 
white and colored people. The pall-bearers were 
Governor Barbour, Philip P. Barbour, Charles P. 
Howard, and Reuben Conway ; the two last were 
neighboring farmers.